Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chail

Chail was the summer capital of the former princely state of Patiala. It came into being in the late nineteenth century when it’s handsome and dashing Maharaja Bhupender Singh was banished from Shimla, the summer capital of British India for a dalliance with the British Commander –in-Chief’s daughter. Smarting at this insult, Bhupender Singh began exploring the neighbouring hills with a single guiding force – to find a hill that was within sight of Shimla but higher. The little village of Chail seemed perfect. Shimla lay within direct vision, and most important, Chail was higher than the British controlled Shimla town. Large tracts of the land here already belonged to him. This had been given to his ancestors for services rendered during the Gurkha wars which had come to an end in 1815-16. A site was selected and the Maharaja began building his summer palace. But an ill omen seemed to hang over the construction area. Local legend has it that the moment anything was built, it would collapse over night. Dozens of snakes would appear from nowhere and attack the labourers. Then Bhupinder Singh had a dream. A sage appeared before him and declared that the site the Maharaja had chosen was where he had meditated till he was taken by the earth, and his peace should not be disturbed. The Maharaja had the sage’s blessing to build on any other spot. Bhupinder Singh moved to another site and at the original spot – which is about a kilometre from the Palace Hotel – he had a temple built to the sage. Here the stone embodiment of the sage may still be seen along with the iron tongs and trident. The shrine is known as the Sidh Baba Ka Mandir and is revered by many who claim that the sage has the power to grant boons. Meanwhile Bhupinder Singh had another site levelled out and a splended mansion was built and sumptuously furnished. And at 2226 m, a good hundered meters above Shimla’s average height, Bhupinder Singh’s summer capital was prepared to taken on the British one at equal terms.


Chail Palace Hotel

In 1972 the property set in about 75 acres of land – including peripheral cottages, woods, sport and recreation facilities and even an orchard – passed into the hands of Himachal Tourism. This is now the Palace Hotel – a full- fledged destination resort. This retains the grandeur of its princely past and a large elegant lawn, complete with pavilion and fountain, adjoins the Hotel. Chail’s famous cricket ground was built in 1893 after leveling out the top of a hill. This stands at 2444.4 m and is perhaps the highest cricket pitch and the polo ground in the world. Maharaja Bhupinder Singh was an avid cricketer and the teams that have played here include the MCC. Bhupinder Singh was not averse to a spot of fun in cricket too. This once included a match with all the players dressed as women; the Maharaja took the crease in a nun’s black habit sporting and equally black beard. Several easy walks can be done in and around Chail. The small wild life sanctuary has a variety of wild life that includes the ghoral, kakkar, sambhar, red jungle fowl, and the khalij and cheer pheasents. There are Machan-like sighting posts near ‘Blossom’ at Khariun and on the blade pate of the prosaically named Roda Tibba. Fishing is possible on the Gaura river 29 km from Chail and there are several trek routes that lead out of the resort, including the one to the Choor Chandni mountain which is visible from Chail and poetically translates as “The Mountain Of The Silver Bangles”. Chail is 86 km from Kalka via Kandaghat and 45 km from Shimla via Kufri.

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